Sunday, 29 May 2011


23rd - 26th May 2011

Viva El Presidente 'Comandante Daniel' Ortega

TICA bus again out of San Salvador, through a bit of Honduras and into Nicaragua at Somotilla then past Leon to Managua. 14 hours. The countryside on this journey became progressively flatter and poorer although still quite lush and green with big hills, mountains and volcanos in the distance. Interestingly, Honduras alone in Central America has no volcanos - some freak of tectonic plate distribution.
The border stops were a bit of a pain in the arse due to it being stifling hot, getting bags on and off the bus and a long wait for them to be searched, or not, at the whim of customs officials. There was a distinct lack of porters.
The bus was full and there were some curious occupants ( excluding me of course ). Two, what looked like Amish women, stood out as did a very bossy 'schoolmistress' of a tour leader who never stopped telling her charges, loudly, what they should be doing, or not. She was very irritating, and some of her 'tour party' seemed a bit weird too, particularly a German chap who looked just like Benny Hill in long khaki shorts and a big hat and wandered around the bus being 'Serr Amusink', or so he thought. We could all, including the Amish ladies, have happily shot him.
Managua is a real dump. It is mostly, in the centre, a semi-cleared bomb site or, more accurately, earthquake site. The major earthquake which flattened the place occurred in 1972. Due to the utterly corrupt Samosa dictatorship which spent all the aid money on their armed forces and not rebuilding, followed by the Sandinista guerrillas ( FSLN ) taking power in 1979 which led to further civil war, nothing got done. The Sandinistas were led by El 'Comandante Daniel' Ortega. The US backed another loser here in the shape of the 'Contras' in support of the ousted Samosa regime ( just because they weren't 'commie bastards' I suppose ). Anyway, Ortega was replaced in 1990 and some progress was made. Ortega is now back in power again as President. Viva El Comandante Daniel! What a survivor.
It makes San Salvador appear positively pristine in comparison. Some trees, and weeds, have fortuitously grown up to conceal the worst of the place. The locals enjoy demonstrating , and some obliged as we went on a look-see ( left ).
The city centre area where I was ( unwittingly ) staying in a dilapidated hotel called Los Felipe ( $20 per night ) was a shanty town. There were cleared areas, derelict buildings and some old 'plazas' with a few abandoned looking Grand Edifices which are used occasionally for state sponsored rallies and parades.

Right: The Plaza de La Republic ( Somosa era ), which became The Plaza de La Revolution ( Sandinistas era ), then Plaza de La Republica ( post Sandinista ), now Plaza de La Revolution again ( Ortega is back ), is the venue for parades and of the deserted Presidential Palace.

Left: On another side is the unused ( I think ) Cathedral. Lots of weeds on the fenced off steps.
On the plus side, maybe, there were not so many armed guards around, presumably because there was bugger-all worth guarding, apart from the petrol stations.

Right:  Another general view of the streets. I am told, however, outside the centre there are some very civilised shopping and commercial areas with some good hotels and restaurants. There must be. It is the Capital, dammit! However the city sprawls for miles in a very 'low-rise' way and I didn't see the smart areas. I remember passing the 'International' airport on the way in which appeared functional.

Right: The Monument de La Revolution. His right foot was blown off by a bomb at some point. I think he holds a pick in his right hand, and a scruffy black and red Sandinista flag is tied to the barrel of his rifle. Symbolic of tatty revolutionary art.

Would you believe it, yes you would by now, there was an Oirish bear a couple of blocks away! I taxied over ( all of 300yds ). The redoubtable Michael was holding the fort. He had Guiness, in tins, and one other, American, customer. Originally an electrician from Cork, Michael came to Honduras 27 years ago to help in refugee camps over the border from Nicaragua. He stayed and is a fount of knowledge about the place and lots of other things as well. I think he is married to a local ( a 'nicca' as they are fondly referred to by ex-pats and locals alike ) and has two children.
The city is definitely a 'no walk zone' especially after dark. Lads high on 'crack-cocaine' stalk the streets ( apparently ) waiting to pounce on locals and tourists alike. I used a taxi, supplied by the hovel, sorry hotel, to get around. The driver, Bayardo, was a splendidly cheerful chap. He had been a Sandinista guerrilla. He proudly showed me a photo of him being presented with an award of some sort by Comandante Ortega himself in the 1980s.
The upside of this place is, I suppose, that it is cheap. Or at least where I went it was.

Left: The 'silhouette' of Augusto Sandino, after whom the Sandinistas were named. He was a leftist revolutionary in the 1930s and was executed on this spot by the then ruling Somosas ( they held power for a long time ). It is on a hill and can be seen against the sky from just about everywhere in the city. Senor Sandino was famous for his hat. Here he looks a bit like one of those rifle-range targets which 'falls when hit'.

Right: A view over the 'city' from this hill looking north towards lake Managua. Not a very inspiring sight. It looked much the same in all the other directions. I never did find out where the 'posh' area was. Carefully hidden, no doubt.

Left: Sandino, and his hat, from a distance.

Bayardo, the reformed guerrilla, drove me the 30 miles north-east to Granada. We had to stop for a beer on the way. It was so HOT!
Anyway, Granada is another world altogether. It is on the shore of Lake Nicaragua ( a vast lake ) and is truly a revelation after Managua. The town is 'Ye Olde Worlde' colonial Spanish and utterly charming. Somewhat similar to San Christobal ( Mexico ) and Antigua ( Guatemala ). Some wrecked old churchs but otherwise neat and tidy and very 'touristy' in fact. There are smart hotels and restaurants and Spanish language schools. It is one of few showpieces in Nicaragua.

Left: The Alhambra Hotel. Comfortable and excellent service and $50 per night. Not too bad. There were several much more expensive and presumably some cheaper. It was on the central Plaza......

Right:  ....which was of typical variety; ie Cathedral, bandstand ( seen here ), statues, flagpole etc. Plus a vast array of carriages. There was a considerable whiff of horse manure which drifted into the hotel. Very comforting.
The locals used a lot of wonky looking horsedrawn carts to transport their goods. The carts and horses, of a spindly variety, both looked equally decrepit and vied for road room with taxis, motorbikes and the ever present 'chicken' buses. Quite a rustic scene.

Left: Just in case you thought this might be the odd place out, you were, of course, wrong. Here it is. The Oirish bear. O'Shea's, owned and run by a most amusing Irishman from County Dublin called Tom. He was quite an authority on the Irish racing scene and had once part owned a racehorse. That's probably why he is in Nicaragua.

Right. Tom on parade at O'Shea's. This really was a true Irish venue. They did an excellent Irish stew. There was also a Pub Quiz night on my last evening there, run by a young Irish couple. It was great fun and attracted a big crowd. I teamed up with a Canadian girl form Toronto, a teacher, called Megan and a 'Nicca' colleague of hers, Aaron. They were quite knowledgeable and after 4 rounds of good questions ( apart from the pop and movie section ) ie Q...'how many stomachs does a cow have?'...A... 'four'. Eny fule kno that ( apart from me ), we had done reasonably well and finished mid-field.

Left: A view up the main drag in Granada.

Right: A religious procession of some sort. The musicians were very loud and jolly if not entirely in tune or playing any recognisable melody.

Left: I look in at the swimming pool of one of the grander hotels, The Granada. A lovely place with all mod cons. This whole town was in no way similar to dirty old Managua.
Lake Nicaragua, nearby, offered all sorts of sport and recreation. Fishing, sailing, canoeing, bicycling and, for the twitchers, bird watching.

Right: In case you've forgotten what the national flag looks like. The triangle shaped design in the centre features the sky, the sun, the mountains and the sea.

Next stop....Costa Rica.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011


20th - 23rd May 2011

The late Bishop Oscar Romero

Off to San Salvador by TICA bus, $20 and 13 hours, from Guatemala City. Tip here for travellers in Central America: TICA bus, based in Costa Rica, offers a very efficient, comfortable and cheap service which connects Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. Other companies do it as well, probably, but I seem to have got hooked into TICA. The journey got progressively less mountainous and, on crossing the border at Las Chinamas, the going became quite flat. Made quite a change from the past week or two. 
El Salvador is only about the size of Wales. Smaller probably. It is 124 miles long. Along with all it's neighbours it has experienced numerous civil wars and earthquakes. The last civil war started in 1980 when The bish Oscar Romero was assassinated in his church, and ended, despite American assistance, in 1992. The most recent earthquake to flatten the place occurred in 2001. As a result the city centre is a bit of a dusty, dirty, fallen-down and bandit infested wasteland, but there are some smart residential, shopping and commercial areas around the outside. In fact the country has probably the strongest economy in Central America although there is much unemployment ( hence street crime ). Much of the wealth, and there are some very wealthy Salvadorians ( the 14 families who carved up Central America after Independence from Spain originated here ), comes from it's coffee exports and financial institutions.

Left: My hotel. The 'low budget' Marela. Chosen at random, it is in the relatively affluent area of Colonia Escalon. It was very pleasant and comfortable with a most helpful and charming staff plus free use of their computers ( and free WiFi if only I had a damned machine to make use of it!...when I meet that Mr Effing Mackintosh..... ). It was interesting to note that every hotel, shop, petrol station, restaurant, bar, not to mention banks etc., had at least one armed guard, normally carrying a pump-action shotgun and pistol. Pictured outside the hotel ( left ) are Oscar, the doorman cum porter, and Lupita the cheerful receptionist. It was the first time someone ( Oscar ) had carried my bags to my room and I carried his shotgun! I don't know what their incidence of 'negligent discharges' ( as we said in the army ) were, but I suspect they are not unheard of! 
I walked a long way around the more respectable areas and felt well covered by firepower. I never saw any obvious baddies, but then it was hardly surprised given the amount of overt weaponry! One hostile looking act and the place would probably erupt like a gunfight at the OK coral ( or the dodgier ends of London.........Plaistow? )
Walking around downtown ( the centre ) was, I was advised, inadvisable, especially at night. I noticed a distinct lack of street lights, everywhere.
Oscar was unwillingly to lend me his shotgun again.

Right: A typical city centre street scene. It was mostly crowded with poor people from the slummy outskirts or outside the city coming in to sell cheap food and goods.
It was certainly not an inviting area to wander around.
All the decent shops, malls, houses and public buildings were mostly on the edge of the recently developed west side of town.

Left: The Presidential Palace. I think it has some offices in it, but the President has, sensibly, moved elsewhere.

Right: The central Plaza taken from the steps of the Cathedral. Not much there and a bit grotty...........

Left:....... In the middle of which was a statue of someone on a horse. He may not have attracted many tourists ( I saw none in the centre ) but is obviously a big draw with the pigeon community.

Right: San Salvador's old Oxford Street equivalent.
I am told that the city centre will be redeveloped in time. Probably just in time for the next earthquake.

Left> This church was built in the city centre after the last earthquake. It is more subtle than it looks. It's avant-garde artist/architect deliberately built it out of concrete and made it look hideous from the outside. From the inside it is beautiful; a work of great art. The many windows ( barely visible from outside ) are gloriously stained and together with impressive archtecture inside make it a joy to behold, internally. The message being ( as my unarmed guide pointed out ) 'don't judge a book by it's cover', or something to that effect. Sadly it was closed so I didn't get in to witness this revelation. 

Right> This church ( gosh, there may be shortages of many things in Central America but there's certainly no shortage of blinking churches ! It seems that that is where all the money went and probably still goes )
is only interesting because it is built entirely out of iron. You can see all the rivets. It draws the congregation like a magnet. 

I was only here for a couple of nights but had to go out somewhere. I noticed, yes you've guessed it, an Oirish Bear advertised not too far from my digs. I went there. It was called the Shannon Irish Pub. Not many clients and no Guiness and run, seemingly, by a nice Salvadorean lady and a German guy, so no Irish either. The only customers there when I arrived were the San Salvador Bridge Club comprising Daniel (  Manchester  ), Rudi ( Germany ), Clive ( Bradford ) and Rene ( Salvador ). A fairly dissolute looking foursome if you ask me. I never did quite gather what they were doing in San Salvador, other than playing bridge.

Left> The Americas monument on one of the main drags going west. Around here were some very upmarket shopping 'Malls' and restaurants. I had a delicious supper at an excellent Chinese restaurant nearby. It's all quite civilised, around the ( west ) edges.

I have discovered a most irritating trick played on guests in both southern Mexican and, so far, Central American hotels ( something I remember doing myself at school ). They carefully put clingfilm over the top of the glasses in your room. This may be in the interest of hygene. It does mean though, when, unsuspecting, you stagger in to bed and pour water or whatever into your glass it goes all over the table,bed and you. After three of these experiences I think I have learnt. Until the next time. How childish!

So not long, but perhaps long enough, in El Salvador. I am told there are some lovely Pacific beaches which I failed to visit. As everywhere, so far, in this part of the world, the locals that I have met have been so helpful, kind and cheerful. Onwards onwards, arriba KnickerRagYouAre.

Sunday, 22 May 2011


16th - 20th May 2011

My three new best friends in Guatemala

Well, I managed to bluff my way through the border crossing without filling in forms or paying anything. I suspect the Mexicans didn't care and the Guatemalans saw a stupid gringo who couldn't speak EspaƱol and it looked like a lot of extra work and much argument, so they just stamped my passport and brusquely waved me on.
I hadn't realised that the north-west end of Guatemala was so mountainous. Another gripping, toe-curling bus ride ensued through pine covered mountains and volcanos. The highest of these peaks is at 14,000ft. The zig-zag roads were in quite good nick despite having been carved into cliff faces vertical both upwards and down. Impressive engineering. Some of the countryside looked a bit like Switzerland in summer, green fields, towering mountains and forest, much to my amazement. I was informed that the country has a total of 33 volcanos of which 5 are active, one of which hangs over the town of Antigua-Guatemala. For some reason people like to climb them.

Left: Just to remind you what the Guatemalan flag looks like. The centre design consists of crossed rifles over a document ( the document of independence ) with a Quetzal ( a green long-tailed bird which is the national emblem and after which the currency is named ) resting on some laurel leaves.

We arrived in Antigua at 7.30pm ( local ) and I found I had made another 'time' error. I wondered why the pick-up was 1 hour late in San Christobal. Nobody explained that Guatemalan clocks are put back 1 hour ( behind Mexican ) for summer time! Lucky it isn't the other way round. Theoretically the time should go forward as one travels east! Not here it doesn't.
I organised my travel through a local ( Guatemalan ) company called 'Adrenalina Tours' ( not, I hasten to add, due to the hairy driving, but because they used to do adventure tours ) run by a most helpful Belgian chap called Patrick Vercoutere. He has lived in Antigua for over 20 years. I met him on arrival and he kindly found me a nearby and comfortable and cheap hotel; El Hermano Pedro. He is a useful contact should you ever be passing this way.

Left: The bedrooms, behind much foliage, in the Hermano Pedro. It was not actually necessary to use a machete to get into one's room and I didn't look too carefully to see what other living creatures took up residence here.
Antigua-Guatemala is the old capital city. It collapsed ( several times ) due to earthquakes so they moved the capital to Guatemala City, about 30 miles north-east. It is at about 5000ft and therefore not too hot and is overlooked by an active, but relatively friendly, volcano. El Fuego, which blows steam and ash into the sky on a fairly regular ( daily ) basis.
Right: Antiguan chariot. All the streets and squares are cobbled and often fairly roughly so. Walking on these can be uncomfortable so a ride in one of these jalopies would be a bone-shaking experience.
Talking of transport, the local public buses are called 'chicken buses'. They are of the psychedelically hued, noisy and smoke belching variety which light up like Christmas trees at night. They are so named not because people carry their chickens and livestock in them ( although they do ), but because of their manic drivers who 'play chicken' with oncoming vehicles. They are cheap, but not for the faint-hearted. 

Left: One end of the central Plaza which, as always, has a Cathedral at the other. Somewhat similar in lay-out to San Christobal de Las Casas although a bigger, more sprawling, town and less immaculate but it has carefully maintained it's low-rise Spanish colonial architecture, many times rebuilt. The area specialises in selling Jade. As with the Amber in San Christobal, I suspect a lot of it is fake. I don't know what the test is to prove it is genuine. 

Right: The garden in the middle of this square does not have a bandstand. It has a curious fountain instead. It was switched off while I was there but, when on, water spouts from the breasts of the four ladies around the base. I forget what or who they symbolise. Mothercare? Make your own deduction.
There are many gringo foreigners based in the town from USA, all over Europe, Australia; everywhere in fact. Lots of students learning Spanish on 'total immersion' courses spent, from what I could see, totally immersed in the local pubs. Also people who have chosen to work here, visitors who liked the place and just stayed, voluntary aid workers and, of course, several tourists. There is certainly an attraction for many people who prefer a less stressed and rule-bound existence. My local, for three nights, became the 'Ocelot' bar. This is the first Welsh bar I have come across outside Wales. It does good pub nosh too, with a European style menu. It is owned and run by a most amusing chap from Bridgend called Sean ( no, he's not Oirish ) who has been in the town for 8 years or so. He said he preferred the place, unsurprisingly, to Bridgend ( less fights ). The barmaids, Paula from Alaska and Camilla from Sweden, were great fun and the clientele consisted of people like Ben, ex-Shrewsbury School, who is doing admin for voluntary aid groups, Richard, a Texan, involved with some US 'department' or other and the redoubtable Brendan ( who does have an Irish accent ), from Michigan, who used to lecture economics and statistics in a university in Beijing and now writes a column for some far-eastern newspapers. He also sets and comperes the popular weekly Pub Quiz which is, apparently, not to be missed.
Many others too, but this might give you a feel for the eclectic mix of people one tends, or at least I tended, to meet in Antigua.

Right: Welsh Sean and Alaskan Paula ( behind the bar ) in the Ocelot. If you can't read it, the inscription above the left door reads '..The way to titillate an ocelot... is to oscillate it's tit a lot'!
Another extraordinary and most amusing character I met here was Alexander Ferrar, originally from Nassau, Bahamas, then Florida. He is a professional artist ( paintings, very clever ), he is a published author, he owns a tiny, but exquisite, restaurant ( excellent wine and food ) in the town plus an 'exotic' ice-cream shop ( you know, things like 'Wasabi and Mango' flavour etc. ). He has a wonderfully cynical view on life! Obviously a most talented, and busy, young man. His website is '' You might find his 'product' entertaining; I certainly did. (  athough perhaps not the wasabi ice-cream ). 

Left: Most of the restaurants and cafes were set around a courtyard inside the buildings off the streets. There were many very smart and good ones too. There was also a lot of poverty on display at street level. Quite a lot of, mostly disabled, beggars, children selling chewing-gum and loads of ethnic women selling colourful Mayan shawls and knitwear. The most common form of street sale was the `Shoe-Shine' at 5 Quetsales per shine. Lots of young boys did this, and the locals made much use of the service ( 2 Quetsales for a local ). Sadly my shoes are beyond shining.

Right: A day out to Panajachel on the shore of Lake Atitlan ( see left ) was decided upon. It is about 70 miles west of Antigua in some spectacular forested and mountainous countryside. Back down the road to Mexico in fact. In our minibus ( after an American geologist got off to go hiking! ) there were only two English speakers, me and a Thai policelady from Bangkok called Peatpram who was on R&R while working with the UN in Haiti. She was great fun and we 'teamed up' for the day. Neither of us had a clue as to where to go so we bumbled around this picturesque village, ate and drank and resisted the scores of hawkers selling things, and boat trips on the decidedly choppy lake. It is the low tourist season so there were always many more sellers than buyers. In the minibus on the way back to Antigua were a  recently married couple from Wimbledon who had just completed an 'all-night-climb' of some volcano. Very romantic. Also Claudia, a lady travelling alone from New Orleans ( with a house in Mexico ). We got together for a drink, in the Ocelot, afterwards. What a sociable day out.

Right: Something that looked suspiciously like a 'tuk-tuk' in Panajachel. There were lots of them; the local type of tourist taxi, as per Bangkok. They didn't sound quite like authentic tuk-tuks but they must have made Peatpram feel a bit homesick.

There was a very smart and expensive golf course just outside the town ( right ) called La Reunion . I wandered in and, although not a golfist, was mighty impressed. It is in the lee of El Baul volcano and was very up and down hill, if you ask me. Lots of those motorised golf-buggy things for the 'infirm' or lazy though, and 'chalets' for wealthy guests plus elegant dining, swimming pools, hot and cold running slave-girls and servants to polish your club and balls etc.

I was reminded by many ex-pats in the Ocelot that Guatemala is, especially out in the countryside, a pretty lawless place and infested by a lot of the drug gangs that also plague Mexico. Quite a lot of murders occur and the police/army seem incapable of sorting it out ( corruption is rife, one suspects ). Nearly all of it involves the gangs or those what cross them, and perhaps a few innocents who may get caught in the crossfire. There is also great legal weath generated by the coffee 'fincas'. On the other hand there is also grinding poverty and lack of jobs which encourages robbery and street crime. Despite all that, I met so many people ( ex-pats ) who really like living and working here. My impression, after all of four days, is that it is a great place and, if you are not stupid, pretty safe really ( apart from the chicken buses maybe ). A little untamed perhaps, nothing wrong with that, and the people are genuinely friendly and welcoming.

So, onwards El Salvador for a brief stop-over. 

Friday, 20 May 2011


12th - 15th May 2011

El Sub-Comandante Marcos

The bus trip from Mexico City to here, 13 hours, was a 'semi-white-knuckle' ride through the Sierra Madre del Sur mountains. Some vertiginous drops and sharpish bends which, thankfully, became somewhat concealed as night drew in. One truck had skidded off the road into a ravine. The first people on the scene were certainly not the emergency services because queues of pick-up trucks had arrived and lots of 'wreckers', like ants, were carrying away the plunder of sacks of something. Its an ill wind etc.....

The town of San Christobal de Las Casas is a jewel of a place and a complete change from the big city. It is 'Stow-on-the-Wold meets Cortez'. The district here, Chiapas, is supposed to be the poorest in Mexico but from the look of the town you certainly wouldn't think so. It is immaculately clean and almost entirely only one or two stories high with picturesque narrow streets which conceal, behind what look like plain brown doors hotels, bars, restaurants and shops with beautiful courtyards featuring gardens and fountains. The colour of terra-cotta prevails with houses painted in pastel shades. No graffiti.  It is all most tasteful. They must have strict planning regulations. Even the pavements, made of some amber coloured flagstones, literally shone. At 5000ft up the skies were blue but it wasn't too hot.
The district of Chiapas is the stamping ground of the Zapatista guerrillas ( EZLN ) under the leadership of the charismatic and popular ( in the area ) El Sub-Comandante Marcos. They have continually sought autonomy for the district. It was on January 1st 1974 that his boys captured the town and have also captured a few tourists in the past, but didn't do them any harm. They still mauintain a presence and are actually semi-tolerated by the Mexican government ( the area doesn't have any major resources! ). 
It is also the home to many indigenous Maya tribes, a famous Maya area with lots of ancient Mayan ruins.

Left: One of the 'Plazas'. There were several including the one with the mandatory Cathedral and bandstand.
The streets were very narrow and laid out in a grid pattern. There was plenty of traffic but, lesson to be learnt here, absolutely no traffic lights. The idea was just to give way and it seemed to work brilliantly. No aggro and few traffic-jams. 

Right: A typical street. Lots of interesting things were concealed behind these innocuous looking doors. Again, there were a surprising amount of old VW Beetles about the place.
The place is also noted for amber jewellry. Many shops advertised this stuff. I'm told you check it is genuine by rubbing a bit on a soft cloth and it should then develope enough static electricity to hold a piece of paper.


Left: The courtyard at my cheap end of the market hotel ( $40 per night ). There were many more up-market places with glorious gardens and 'water-features', all invisible from the street.

Right: A collonade along one of the plazas in which were hidden great restaurants, coffee shops etc.
At night lots of Maya folk, beautifully and colourfully dressed in their national costume, set up stalls ( well, rugs on the ground actually ) to sell knitwear, jewellry, carvings bags etc. It all looked well made and was certainly authentic stuff. No tat. It was also, for them, a good social gathering.

Left: A couple of Maya 'giants' dancing down the street. Especially at the weekend there was a happy carnival atmosphere to the place, and it wasn't even the tourist season. I suspect they just like to amuse themselves. There were also firework displays and much music, notably at..............

......and around the bandstand. The chap on the xylophone thing was impressive. Reminded me of that astronomer bloke whose trousers came up to his chin, ( Patrick Moore was it? ), who was a virtuoso on one of these. Maybe he still is, and continuing to amuse his fans, along with Herb Alpert. Couples were waltzing , although, as always, I failed to capture them. 

A day was spent on an outing to the famous Mayan ruins at Palenque which is about 160 kms north-east. There were 14 of us in a minibus. Various nationalities, and I struck up an aquaintance with an amusing French lady, Sabina ( a geologist ), an Aussie girl, ( Vedora ) and a Mexican girl ( owned a shop ). They all spoke English. These trips can be very social at times. The drive to Palanque took over 7 hours because this time it really was a 'Glutus Maximus Clenchus' roller-coaster ride through severe mountainous pine-covered terrain, and we had a breakfast pit-stop and two other short 'visits' en-route. The road tried to tie itself in knots. It was quite spectacular but taking pics was difficult when you are hanging on to the seat in front for dear life! Fortunately there were lots of  'sleeping policemen' to slow us down and even a couple of military check-points. Maybe they were out searching for El Sub-Comandante Marcos? Maybe they were El Sub-Comandante and his boys! They didn't detain us too long. 

Left: A short stop en-route at the Agua Azul waterfalls. Several of our bus load being hot and dusty went for a swim in the inviting clear blue ( azure ) coloured pools below it.
I was hot dusty and thirsty so decided to have a beer instead ( on safety, monitoring and life-saving duties, of course ).

Left: Another quick stop on the way. A 100ft waterfall called Misol Ha. It was possible, and fun, to walk along a ledge underneath the falls, which led to a cave.............

.........which, reputedy, went quite a distance to an underground lagoon. I saw some people following a dim torchlight into the stygian gloom and then I heard a scream. I didn't see them again. I had absolutely no intention of joining them because a) I would miss the bus and b) because I suffer from claustrophobia.

Left: And so to the Mayan ruins at Palenque. They covered a large area. Impressive, maybe, but still a lot of 're-construction'. Not so much as at Teotihuachan or Tenochtitlan though. Not so many sacrifices were carried out by the Maya ( sacrifice-lite ) who were a well educated and, for their era, knowledgeable people. They were the first civilisation to work out and design the 365 day calendar and also to discover the mathematical significance of 'zero'.

Above: More ruins. There was a signposted 'route' around the site which gave explanations of the various temples and went through woods and over streams crossed by rope and plank bridges. All very scenic. It did, I began to notice, continue a long way downhill to the 'exit'. When finally spat out there was, to my horror, a 2km walk up a steep road back to the bus which was due to leave in 15 minutes! It was also very hot and humid. Bloody hell! I made it but was I sweating! Some sort of ancient Mayan joke I suppose.
So, another long and tortuous drive back to San Christobal. I think I've seen enough old ruins now.

Right: Rat meets a fellow traveller in San Christobal.

Below: I promised our faithful barman I would post a photo of him. There was excellent service in the 'bijou' Hotel El Paraiso and the food was delicious. A much more cosmopolitan menu than up north.

So that was San Christobal de Las Casas. It was, in my opinion, a lovely place with a jolly, friendly and colourful atmosphere. 
Next off to Guatemala. I have not had my passport stamped in Mexico. No visitor's pass. They just waved us through in Tijuana. I was assured by a lady in the immigration office in Mexico City that this 'should' not be a problem. I might have to fill in a form and pay 'some' money at the border. I have visions of being stranded forever in the no-man's land between Mexico and Guatemala. If you don't hear from me again, that's where I will be.